Did your family have special little family traditions when you were growing up? If you have raised a family, did you incorporate special traditions into the culture of your family? If so, have any of those family traditions been carried on by your grown children in their families? Or, if you now have a young family of your own, have you given any thought to establishing and cultivating family traditions?
I ask those questions because I like to hear about traditions within families. Beyond that, I’d like to encourage those of you who do not have family traditions to give some thought to this subject. So let’s talk about it....
What Are Family Traditions?
Family traditions are things your whole family experience and enjoy together on a regular basis (i.e., yearly). Such traditions typically revolve around foods that are eaten or activities that everyone participates in. Good family traditions are something everyone looks forward to and, if the tradition is not experienced, everyone is disappointed.
Why Have Family Traditions?
Special traditions, unique to your family, are one of the spices of family life. Family traditions bring a richness and quality to family life that would otherwise not be there. Shared family traditions serve to bring families closer together and strengthen relationships.
A Sad Example
As I think back on my own family when growing up, I have a hard time recalling any family traditions. I suppose that Thanksgiving dinner would qualify. My mother was a great cook and put a lot into the meal. One of the things she always cooked for Thanksgiving was rutabaga—only for Thanksgiving. I happen to like rutabaga, but if that's the best family tradition I can come up with, that's kind of sad, don't you think?
It is typical for families to gather each year for a special meal at Thanksgiving and Christmas and it makes those gatherings a tradition. I think that is one of the best aspects of those holidays. But getting together and just sharing a meal, as good and important as that is, doesn’t qualify all by itself as the best example of a family tradition, at least not to my way of thinking.
A Better Example
I believe a family gathering around a holiday meal can certainly be an important part of a family tradition. The other part can be shared activities after the meal. For example, it was typical for my wife’s family (six kids, of which she is the youngest) to gather around the Thanksgiving table after dinner and play the card game, Pitch. I always thought that was neat. It sure beats gathering around the television for non-communicative, passive, brainless entertainment.
I can assure you that few families are going to have fond remembrances of the television shows they watched together the previous Thanksgiving after dinner. There is, however, a whole lot better chance they will remember the rousing game of cards. Those memories (good memories) of shared past family traditions are critically important part of the equation.
Something as simple as all taking a walk in the countryside after the meal can be a special family tradition.
An Even Better Example
When groups of people share in the work of completing a common task, it draws the group closer. When the work involves a whole family, doing something special and productive, with an enjoyable end, and this work is done on a periodic basis, it can be a great family tradition.
For example, I know of a family that gathers each fall to make apple butter in the historical manner. They prepare the apples and spices and put them in a big copper kettle over an outdoor fire. Together, they take turns stirring the boiling apple and spice mix down until it is the right finished consistency. Then they seal it in jars and everyone takes some home. The family is now older, and some live far away, but every year in the autumn, they travel home to make the apple butter, as is their family tradition.
When I heard about that family tradition, I almost bought a copper kettle and butter stirring paddle (Lehman’s has them). But copper kettles are downright expensive. I found used ones are cheaper on Ebay but have not pursued it. I may yet.
In My Own Family
In my family now, with my wife and three teenage boys, there are a few things we do that I think qualify as good family traditions. One example that comes to mind is making maple syrup in the backyard. This has been a fun and memorable family activity that we’ve done for many years.
We build a makeshift sugar shack, tap 25 maple trees in the woods behind our house, collect the sap into a 55-gallon barrel, and boil it down in a homemade, wood-fired evaporator. Stoking the fire, skimming foam off the boiling sap, and hanging out around the warm evaporator on a cold and blustery spring day is a great memory maker. And we sure do enjoy the quart jars of homemade maple syrup that are produced.
Making apple cider is also something of a tradition in my family. It is an activity we all work together at and, together, we enjoy the fruit of our labor.
Another family tradition is our annual 4th of July bonfire. It’s not a big event—just a couple families over for some food and fellowship. When it gets dark, we light a big pile of wood pallets that we’ve gathered free from the local lumberyard. We work together to make the pile of wood. We have fun. We make memories. And we look forward to doing it all over again the next year.
A Quirky Little Example
Some family traditions are more personal. For example, sons and fathers (or daughters and fathers) going hunting together. Then there are the offbeat traditions. For example, It is my tradition to give each of my sons a bottle of hot sauce every Christmas. Maybe that’s more like a custom. Whatever the case, quirky little things like that are akin to tradition, and can be fun.
Tradition of a Wealthy Family
I went to college with a girl that came from a family with money. Each year, during Christmas vacation from school, the family went on a skiing trip. The parents rented a place on or near a ski slope somewhere in the US. They enjoyed a fun week together skiing and doing whatever else you would do on a skiing vacation. The things you can do with money, eh?
I will never have that kind of money to spend in that manner. But if I did, instead of a skiing vacation, I’d opt to take the family to some sort of wilderness lodge or camp, on a lake, surrounded by woods and mountains. It's fun to dream.
But, as I think of it, my family has, for the past several years, taken something of a traditional family vacation. We make it a point to take a short agrarian-centered trip to a living history museum. I’ve written of our agrarian family vacations here in the past.
What Can You Do to Create Traditions?
It’s fun to imagine what we might do for a family tradition if... we had more money, or if... we had more free time, or if... our circumstances were somehow different than they are now. But the fact is, you don’t need a lot of money to establish and perpetuate family traditions. And the fact is, we always make time for the things that are most important to us. And where you are right now is as good a place as any to implement this family-strengthening strategy.
I hope this essay has encouraged you to give some serious thought to the matter of family traditions. I hope you will endeavor to deliberately implement traditions into the life of your family, especially if you now have young children.
If you have ideas or examples of family traditions, I invite you to share them here (using the comments feature) for the benefit and encouragement of us all. And I thank you for that.
In my next blog entry I will share with you about a very simple, fun, and inexpensive tradition that I started in my family 14 years ago.
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